Saturday, May 2, 2009

The distasteful underbelly of the Toronto Tamil protest

Discrimination and hate-speech mar protest

For several weeks the Tamil
- Sri Lankan community in the GTA have been protesting against the conflict in their native Sri Lanka, specifically the Sri Lankan governement's armed forces quest to root out Tamil revolutionary forces, or Tamil Tigers, dubbed terrorists by many nations (including Canada). There has been a great local community outpouring of emotion and demands for official government recognition of the plight of civilians trapped in the war zone. The protests have been well organized and, unitl recently, peaceful. Last week police moved in and made fifteen arrests of Tamil protetsters who refused to peacefully remove themselves from the intersection of University Avenue and Dundas.

Protests in recent weeks had been disruptive, but peaceful and respectful of the general public. One in particular that I had opportunity to witness was the ring around Toronto protest, which snaked protestors in a human chain along Bloor, down Yonge, along Front Street and back up University Avenue past the provincial legislature. The flag waving protestors respectfully waited for cross walks at University and College.

Last week the occupation of University Avenue by Tamil protestors and the blocking of north and southbound traffic lanes, even to emergency vehicles bound for the hospitals lining University was a step over the line. Although police did not move in in force immediately, eventually they had to descend on the protestors who were staging a noisy drum-beating 24 hour vigil in the road in front of the U.S. consulate (which begs the question of the effacacy of Canadians asking the U.S. military to intervene in a south Asian conflict by flag waving in front of a Toronto consulate, rather than the embassy in Ottawa, or why they would feel the Canadian military or the U.N. should not be pressured to respond - Marketing is everything and U.S. consulates are easy targets).

Harassing the homeless: deplorable conduct

One incident, not reported in the news until now, revealed to me the distasteful underbelly of the Tamil protest movement in the GTA and their view of the community they have chosen to live in. I work for Project417 a grassroots charity that helps the homeless out on the streets of Toronto. I'm out there several nights a week with volunteer groups of about ten to fifteen people, meeting with our homeless friends who are absolutely without shelter, sleeping on the streets of Toronto. As we passed the Tamil protest one night recently on University Avenue in front of the Court buildings we were headed to visit one friend, a homeless lady who has been sleeping nearby for several months - right through the depths of the winter.

Unfortunately, her too public sleeping location was very close to where the Tamil protesters had chosen to stage their overnight event. She will not sleep in city shelters - a woman, homeless, with trauma and violence in her past, she is vulnerable and at risk living outside and distrustful of strangers. The noise from the dozens of beating drums chosen by unruly protesters on University was very loud when we found her - we had to shout to speak and we talked about how difficult it was to sleep. Previously the protests had wrapped up about 11 pm, but now they planned to go all night (very admirable of the Tamil community in their perseverance and committment to their cause, but no-one was there to witness their nocturnal disturbance) Except, that is, for our homeless friends on the street.

This night the Tamil protesters went beyond the accepatable noise and chanting. They harassed our friend. The protesters found themselves in a position not many of us encounter - where to lay down and sleep when you're out on the streets all night. Our homeless friend had a good location, sheltered from the elements - there was a light rain that evening. A group of protesters wanted to sleep where she is camped out. After all it is a public place and they would have been welcome to camp out adjacent to her and mind their own business. There are often upwards of half a dozen homeless in that particular spot.

But they didn't leave it at that - groups of them began visiting her, many of them Tamil Canadian youth. They yelled at her, they swore at her. They told her to leave, because they didn't want her sleeping there. They said she was dirty and indecent. They said they didn't want to be near her disease (their faulty asumption, our friend is healthy). They called her a prostitute (whore) and a drug addict, neither of which is the case. Unfortunately, I was supervising several youth volunteers (youth, by the way, who were with me delivering food and friendly smiles to the homeless) and had to leave, so I don't know how the night progressed, but I fear the worst.

Here is an example of a not so desirable, but instructive view of the Tamil protesters. Claiming to be speaking out for fairness and a humanitarian cause - they prove to be blind to the needs of people in their own GTA communty. They are guilty of oppressive behaviour and discriminatory and hateful speech and actions. They are intimately aware (they say) of conditions thousands of miles away in Sri Lanka, but prove to display some of the worst characteristics of the Sri Lankan authorities they oppose in their adopted homeland. I will be back on the street tonight visiting our friend - I will not turn a blind eye to any further attacks on her by misguided protesters.

Mirrored at the MissionLog. To volunteer with project417, visit

1 comment:

  1. Oh yeah, it happens in India too, those protestors. They dig up roads, block roads with cinderblocks, break the glasses of buses, force shops to down their shutters... It is becoming difficult